Document Type


Publication Date

Winter 2018

Department 1

Civil War Era Studies

Department 2



The years between 1865 and 1877, which form the period in American history known as Reconstruction, compose a sort of coda to the traumatic opera of the American Civil War of 1861–65. Reconstruction embraces the twelve years of active effort to rebuild the American Union, though in some sense (because Reconstruction had no official starting or ending date) aspects of it spluttered on well into the 1890s. I use the word spluttered deliberately, because Reconstruction is also the ugly duckling of American history in the eyes of many American historians, and something the public considers vaguely awful if it thinks of it at all. Absent from Reconstruction are the conflict and the personalities that make the Civil War so colorful; it also lacks the climactic battles and dissipates into a confusing and wearisome tale of lost opportunities, squalid victories, and embarrassing defeats. It was, proclaimed one veteran of the Army of Northern Virginia, “not peace established in power, but captured in shame; not throned on high by willing witnesses, but pinned to the earth by imperial steel—the peace of the bayonet.” In many cases, especially for those who regard Reconstruction as an unrelieved misery, almost the worst thing that can be said about someone is that they were prominent in Reconstruction.

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Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.


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